Saturday, March 26, 2011

United States Coast Guard Flight Gear & Flight Suits, USCG Air Station Borinquen

Since my last posting was about my old fight helmet from when I flew on HH65A Dolphin helicopters down in Puerto Rico, I figured I ought to climb into the attic and drag out some more of my old gear so I could make it a complete set!

United States Air Station Borinquen,  Ramey, Puerto Rico  1986 - 1989

When I first started flying, back in 1986, the USCG was still issuing out military green flight suits.  I flew a lot of hours in those green suits and I think they really looked sharp.  Then, about 1987, the USCG switched over to what we called NASA flight suits.  They were basically the same as the green ones, except they had shoulder epilates and were blue.  All of our flight suits had our air station "SAR Frogs" patch sewn on the shoulder (SAR for Search & Rescue, and Frogs because we flew French helicopters).  The leather name tags were made up in the survival shop and were Velcro backed so they could be removed.

Over the top of our flight suits, we wore a combination survival vest and flotation / escape re-breather.  The vests were maintained by our survival shop and were always hanging ready to go.  We were not issued with a vest, but rather checked one out as we headed out to the helicopter for a flight.  There were pencil flares, signal mirror, radio beacon, strobe light, and a dye packet in the pockets, as I recall.  In the yoke of the vest, there was an inflatable flotation bladder that could be filled with either co2, pure oxygen, or by mouth through a manual fill tube.  You could tell the difference between the two cartridges (oxygen, co2) by the shape of the plastic bead on the end of the pull cord (I believe the co2 was round and the oxygen was square).  If you were trapped in a sinking helicopter, you could fill the bladder with the pure oxygen and then breath it in and out through an attached mouthpiece.  This would give you anywhere from a few minutes to ten minutes of breathing, time to get out of the helicopter and swim to the surface.
Here is a vest that is just the shell.  All of the survival gear and inflatables have been removed.

Many of us carried an issued "knee board" that was made of aluminum and had a built-in. battery powered light, a pencil sharpener, pencil holder, pad of paper, and a pencil.  I used mine to make flight notes of things like navigational positions, radio frequencies, contact units, mission info etc.  In fact, the pad of paper on my knee board still has the notes from my last Search & Rescue flight:  
On May 7, 1988, While flying on USCG Helicopter 6511, I lowered two pumps to the M/V Isabell Mitchell.  The Isabell Mitchell was a small coastal freighter that was hauling a hold full of sugar.  She lost her steering and ran aground on a reef off the South East corner of the Dominiquen Republic.  The ship was sinking slowly and had the added problem of having a hold full of wet sugar that was starting to act like cement.  We dropped the pumps, and stayed on scene for as long as we could, then headed back to the Air Station.

Along with our flight gear, we normally took our USCG ball caps along for any time that we were out of the helicopter for refueling, etc.  These were the same caps that we wore around the hangar while doing our "regular" work.  It was pretty customary to wear your petty officer's device or flight wings pin on the front of the cap, but you had to bend the tabs over and NOT use the pin clasps.  This was to make sure that the device did not fall off and get sucked into the intake of the jet turbine engines!

In the Caribbean, it was pretty darn warm pretty much year round so we really didn't wear flight jackets, but occasionally when we were on a longer flight, or one that might involve several refuelings, we would throw our jackets in.  Here's mine, complete with a set of flight wings pinned over the embossed ones on the name tag.  The jacket was mostly worn around the base if needed, or when away on USCG business.

The seats in the HH65A Dolphin helicopters were HARD!  To help with this, our survival shop purchased inflatable Thermarest seat cushions and issued them out to everyone. Three hours sitting on a hard seat while flying was pure HELL until we got these cushions :)  Here is mine, with a little self applied "trench art".

We wore our regular green and gray flight gloves at all times while flying.  The Flight Mechanics (Me) also carried a single left-hand glove to wear over the regular flight glove to protect your hand while running the hoist cable in and out during rescues.  As you can see, I got plenty of time using the rescue hoist!

I almost forgot my trusty USCG issue flight glasses with the optional ear-hook frames..........

And last but not least, the trusty survival knife.  I profiled this knife in an earlier post......... click this link to read more about it;   USCG SURVIVAL KNIFE

Thursday, March 24, 2011

United States Coast Guard Flight Helmet, Gentex Brand, USCG circa 1987

Today I'll be showcasing my old Gentex Flight Helmet that I wore while I was flying on USGG, HH6A helicopters.   At the time, I was stationed at USCG Airstation Borinquen, Ramey, Puerto Rico.

I was stationed in Borinquen from 1986 to 1989.  I was a Petty Officer,  Aviation Machinists Mate Third Class.  I flew as an Aircrewman / Flight Mechanic on Aerospatiale Dolphin Helicopters, HH65A models.  I flew numerous routine training missions, Law Enforcement missions, Search and Rescue missions and various other "miscellaneous" missions.  I held a secret clearance, made a number of rescues, flew some pretty crazy surveillance missions and saw an incredibly beautiful corner of the world from the air.  Good times....... glad I did it, not sure if I'd do it again.........................  As an Flight Mechanic, or "Flight Mech" as they're known in the service, I flew in the third seat for Search and Rescue and Law Enforcement missions, and occasionally in the Co-Pilot's seat on some Training Missions (I even got some stick time in!).  As the Aircrewman, I handled the radios, the rescue hoist and orchestrated the actual rescues, camera, and was observer while on surveillance missions....... refueling, pre- and post- flight inspections........ basically everything except fly the helicopter!

At Airstation Borinquen we had some of the very first HH65A helicopters and we were involved with field testing various new field modifications (sometimes with harrowing results!  More on that in a later post!).  In a later post I'll showcase some of my awards, flight suit, gear and pictures.  For now, here's a photo of the 6527, the helicopter that I did most of my flight time on.  This is an archive photo, but I believe that it was taken on a training mission in Puerto Rico about the same time that I was flying down there......... who knows, that could be me at the hoist controls!

 Aerospatiale HH65A  Dolphin Helicopter, 6527, circa 1980's 

The helmet that I have to show off today, is the second flight helmet that I was issued and the one I used right up until I got out of the Coast Guard in 1989.  My first helmet was an older helmet that was pretty worn when I turned it in for this new one.  This helmet was brand new out of the box when the Survivalman issued it to me.

The helmet is a Gentex model FSCM 97427.  It has both a clear and dark tinted visor and is wired with an a microphone boom and ear speakers.  When the flight helmets were issued, they were bright white.  The Aviation Survivalman applied the regulation reflective stripes and the Velcro square (for survival strobe light attachment).  Any other artwork was left to the new owner.  The only requirement at the time was that the "art" had to be in good taste and could only be done with stick-on tape.  I applied the "Flying 4-Leaf Clover" and "Shark" on the helmet.  My first helmet sported a regulation set of USCG flight wings on the front and on the back, a Gordon and Smith surf sticker that said "Shark Bait" on it.   Here's the story with the whole "shark" thing...........

I've gone by the nickname of Shark, or Sharky, for years (thanks Sweet Pea!), and I soon realized that when flying these Dolphin helicopters, there were only three kinds of helicopter fliers: 

1.  Those who had crashed.   
2.  Those that were going to crash.   
3.  Those who quit flying before they crashed!  I ended up being #3, but had a few VERY close calls and a couple of VERY hard landings!  

There was also this deal that we often flew on classified law enforcement missions where we had "sealed orders" that we opened as we were headed out.  All of our radio transmissions were coded and only our radioman back at the station and a radioman in Washington, DC, had the key (and the radiomen were "time-locked" in the radio rooms!).  Our positions were all based on a classified "benchmark", actually just a dot in the middle of nowhere, known only to the units on the mission and the command center.............. oh yes, and the USCG command did not want to compromise the coded positions of the units involved, so if they had not heard from us (the helicopter) for something like  two hours, only then would they break the codes to send units looking for us.  We could only fly for about 3 hours............ so, if we went down on a mission, in the middle of the ocean, we were, as the saying goes, "Shark Bait"......... and yes, we saw LOTS of sharks while flying over the Caribbean!

For an interesting read, pop on over to this article that is hosted over at Collector's Weekly.  It's all about the history of painted helicopter helmets, circa Vietnam era.............

So, with all that background, here is the rest of the photo exhibition of the helmet:

Here are some closer details of the helmet on its own.

We always kept the helmets in our issued, nylon helmet bags and wore a "skull cap" on our heads, under the helmets while flying.  Here are a couple pictures of the bag and cap. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Baron Hunting Knife, Solingen Germany 1950's to 1960's

Today I'll be posting my first hunting knife..............  This knife is a vintage stag-horn handle, hunting knife, dating back to the 1950's to 1960's.  The knife was made in Solingen, Germany by Baron (or made for Baron).  Baron was most likely a small export company that formed just after WW2.  Many Baron knives were sold to returning US soldiers during the 1950's and 1960's.   According to Goins Encyclopedia of Cutlery Markings, the "Baron Solingen Germany" mark was used from the 1950's to the 1970's.

I found the knife while I was a kid living in Big Sur, California.  This would have been the early 1970's.  I was out trout fishing, and found it on a bridge in Big Sur State Park, where we lived.  It was in the same old Boy Scout sheath and in the same condition that it is in today.  Since it was obviously not new, I would guess it probably dates back to the 1950's or 1960's.  I've given it a good cleaning and now it will find a spot in one of the saddle bags of the 1948 Bundesgrenzschutz Bicycle.

Here are some photos of the knife and sheath......... If anyone has any information on the Baron Company, I would love to hear more about it!  Drop me an email or leave me a comment.  Thanks.